How can we justify our beliefs by wpr1947


									How can we justify
our beliefs?
So far…

   We have seen that Empiricism is a way of explaining
    where our knowledge comes from- experience
   And that Rationalism is another way- it comes from
   Some empiricists and rationalists believe that they can
    justify their beliefs, ie that they can believe a belief to be
    true, not just a belief. In other words, they say their
    beliefs are held for good reasons.
 This is another attempt to justify our
  beliefs, to be able to say ‘This is a properly
  held belief- I should believe it.’
 We have seen that there are empiricist
  foundationalists, and rationalist

   As usual, some people are never satisfied with this. They don’t
    agree with foundationalism, and think we should look to another way
    to justify our beliefs.

   We will look at the theory of COHERENTISM (sometimes called
    coherence theory)
   (coherent- logically connected- sticking together- hangs together)
   Basically what this means is that rather
    than trying to find a truth (s) that we
    cannot doubt (foundationalism), we should
    look to see if our beliefs all ‘fit’ together
   Example
   I receive a letter from someone, but there’s nothing
    inside. That sounds just like my old Aunt Dotty. But when
    I check the postmark, I see it comes from Cambridge-
    and Aunt Dotty lives in Edinburgh.
   So my idea (hypothesis) that the letter is from her
    doesn’t fit what I already know- it doesn’t COHERE with
    my understanding of the world as I know it.
   But then I remember that my cousin
    Clark has taken Aunty Dotty to
    Cambridge for a holiday. Plus, the
    handwriting on the envelope is like his.
   I can now say with greater confidence
    that Aunt Dotty DID send the letter, but
    she got Clark to write the address and
    post it. My hypothesis (Aunt Dotty has
    sent me a letter) now COHERES with
    my understanding of the world. It ‘fits’, it
    is logically consistent.
Example 2

   I hear a noise outside my bedroom
    window- it sounds like a baby crying!! But
    that is a strange belief- I live two floors up,
    and what would a baby be doing outside
    my window at midnight? My belief is not
    COHERENT with what I know about the
    world already.
   When the morning comes I tell my family,
    and they inform me that cats often wail like
    babies. Chillingly enough. My incoherent
    belief has been replaced by a coherent
    one- babies don’t climb drain pipes; CATS
            What this shows is that
HOLISM       coherentism insists that
             our beliefs are
             HOLISTIC- this means
             that they must be seen
             as a whole, in relation
             to OTHER beliefs. If
             they don’t ‘fit’ with all
             the other beliefs I have,
             then perhaps the new
             belief cannot be said to
             be justified.
   This is similar to what the catholic Church does when it
    hears about new miracles; it sends a team of miracle
    investigators out to assess the claim.
   One of their criteria for deciding if a miracle is real or not,
    is whether it contradicts existing Christian belief. If it
    does, then the miracle is clearly not real, or at least the
    result of diabolic hi-jinks. It is not COHERENT with
    existing beliefs.
   This is also what happened at the Council of Nicea,
    when the church fathers were deciding what books
    would be included in the Bible- they looked to see what
    texts hung together, and which seemed ‘out of place.’
   So Coherent beliefs have to be
    COMPREHENSIVE (covering as much
    about the world as possible) and
    CONSISTENT (hanging together in a non-
    contradictory way)
Let’s assess

Coherentism does not justify the whole ‘set’ of
  beliefs itself- it merely claims to justify beliefs
  based on the idea that they are members of a
 But this doesn’t actually justify the entire set of
  beliefs. The whole thing might be untrue.
   Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of fantasy novels set in a
    mythical world called Middle earth. The writer, JRR
    Tolkein, was an English Language professor at Oxford
    University. He created entire histories, genealogies and
    even languages, based on what he knew about our
    world, language structure etc.
   These creations were incredibly detailed and consistent.
    He invented whole worlds that seem so real, lonely
    people all over the world treat them as if they were true.
   But they’re not! His world is coherent, consistent, and
    obeys rules that ‘hang together’. Yet NONE OF IT IS
   Surely this is a huge flaw with
    coherentism? It might be
    INTERNALLY consistent, but does it
    mean that any beliefs inside it are
    justified in anything more than a
    purely theoretical way?
   Surely you can’t just have millions and
    millions of sets of beliefs, all
    contradicting each other, but each set
    internally consistent? Surely there can
    only be ONE set of correct beliefs
    about the world?
   Therefore Coherentism seems to be
    an unsatisfactory account of how
    beliefs are justified.
   In its defence, it does offer a realistic
    way of describing how we often view
    our own beliefs.
Responses to this criticism
   F.H Bradley
   He argued that there WAS only
    one consistent set of beliefs.
   He said that whenever we are
    confronted by a new piece of
    information, we test it against
    what we already know- we
    then decide to accept it or
    reject it, based on our prior
   Example:
   I see someone in the street
    that appears to be an old
    girlfriend- but I know she left
    the country years ago, and
    besides, I spoke to her on
    the phone a few hours ago.
   I conclude that it would not
    be coherent to believe that it
    is her. My belief is not
    justified. I believe I was
   Therefore we do not simply accept every and
    any set of beliefs (the world of Sherlock Holmes,
    for example) because this contradicts what we
    already know about the world. For a start, 221b
    Baker Street was never a residential apartment-
    it is a bank office.
   There is no Batman set of beliefs, because no
    such place as Gotham City exists. Alas.
 As a sideline, it should be
  noted that Bradley said that
  he did not think any belief of
  the senses (experience) was
 AND he did not believe in any
  infallible beliefs, any
  Foundationalist beliefs.
 Odd as it may appear to us, he would
  claim that it was only PROBABLE that you
  are hearing or seeing this right now, that
  you are in a classroom, or revising from
  this powerpoint in your bedroom.
Donald Davison
   He also defended coherentism this

   Imagine you speak English, and you
    discover a lost tribe of people who
    speak a strange new language called
    Glaswegian. How will you ever
    translate what they are saying?
   You will have to rely on The Principle
    Of Charity- the idea that the lost
    tribe’s ideas are largely true. And that
    you both share roughly the same
    beliefs about what is true and what is
    not. Otherwise you would not be able
    to find out where you disagree.
   Even if we extend this principle, all our
    beliefs might be wrong. What guarantee
    do we have that our standards (which we
    assume the Glaswegians have) are true?
   Imagine an all knowing (omniscient)
    interpreter. He will also have to extend the
    same Principle of Charity to us- he will
    assume that we share common standards of
    truth about our beliefs.
   But because he is omniscient, everything he
    knows is true, so his standards of truth could
    not be mistaken. And if his are true, then
    ours must be roughly, and therefore so must
    the Glaswegians.
   Of course, we can still be mistaken about
    individual beliefs, but the whole idea of a
    coherent set of beliefs is justified…and there
    can be only one.

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